Trump-centric conspiracy theory QAnon lives on

As the world watches a divided America try to sort out who’s in charge, some conspiracy theorists insist that it is all part of a grand plan. Resident conspiracy fan John Turnbull takes a critical look at QAnon.

THE FIRST Q drops came in October 2017 on internet messageboard 4chan

Initially taken by many to be an obvious hoax, the drops predicted that Hillary Clinton would be arrested for her involvement with Pizzagate, the debunked conspiracy that led a man to enter a pizza shop wielding a machine gun, demanding to see a basement that didn’t actually exist.

It wasn’t long, however, before Q (or someone who had hacked the Q account) declared that 4chan had been “infiltrated” and in November 2017 Q started posting on 8chan, which would become his long term home until the site was shut down in 2019.

This move coincided with 4chan founder Christopher Poole banning conversations about Gamergate following doxing of gaming journalists and threats of death and rape. 8chan was happy to welcome the Gamergate audience with open arms.

A message board hosting extreme content (including child pornography), 8chan was set up by a young man called Fredrick Brennan. But Q was posting on a sub-board run by a conspiracy aficionado called Paul Furber, who called the Q drops “the greatest intelligence leak in history”. Reddit posters started to amplify the Q drops in early 2018, while Right-wing media outlets started discussing the Q phenomenon in July 2018 after a mass-appearance of Q shirts, hats and pins at a Trump rally in Tampa, Florida.

Following massacres in Christchurch, New Zealand, El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio, all of which were conducted by 8chan users and discussed on the site, internet service provider Cloudflare pulled their service, leading to the site going down in August 2019. Q went quiet for a while, then reappeared on the newly launched 8kun, owned and run once again by Jim Watkins and his son, Ron.

What is Q clearance?

According to dictionary.com, Q clearance is the highest level of security clearance in the Nuclear Regulatory Commission/United States Department of Energy, permitting access to secret information and documents relating to nuclear research.

What do QAnons believe?

Essentially, the core tenet of QAnon beliefs is that prominent Left-wing politicians and celebrities have been running an underground child sex and murder ring. Key players on the dark side of the conspiracy are Hillary Clinton (naturally), George Soros, Beyoncé, Barack Obama, Anthony Bourdain and John F. Kennedy Jr, who is an active conspirator despite having been dead for more than 20 years. Or has he?

On the side of the angels is no less than Donald J. Trump, leading a covert operation to save millions of children from this evil paedophile cabal, all the while claiming to know little about Q or his legion of followers.

What has Q predicted?

That’s an interesting question. If you listen to sceptics, literally none of Q’s predictions has come true.

Obviously, Hillary Clinton was not arrested in October 2017, nor has she been since then.  

Other missed hits include a predicted mass suicide in February 2018 (nope); a bombshell revelation about North Korea in May 2018 (no again); repeated predictions that Mark Zuckerberg and/or Jack Dorsey would resign and flee the United States (LOL) and also that Angela Merkel was the grand-daughter of Adolf Hitler (uh… no).

Some QAnons claim that Q predicted the arrest of Jeffrey Epstein, but can’t reference any specific Q drops that mention his name and conveniently ignore that Epstein was a good friend of Donald Trump, who referred to Epstein as a “terrific guy”.

So, someone is lying on the internet… what’s the harm?

In June 2018, a Q follower named Matthew Wright blockaded theHoover Dam with an armoured vehicle while armed with two rifles, two handguns and 900 rounds of ammunition. He was demanding that the Government ‘Release the OIG report’, a popular target of QAnon conversation. Wright pleaded guilty to terrorism on 4 February this year.

Trumpism: It's firing up the Far-Right

In December 2018, a California man was arrested with bomb-making materials in his car, apparently planning to blow up a monument in front of the Satanic Temple in Springfield, Illinois after reading about it in a Q drop.

In March 2019, Anthony Comello killed Francesco Cali, a boss in the Gambino crime family, believing his actions had the full support of President Trump. In April 2020, Jessica Prim was arrested after live-streaming her drive from Illinois to New York, to “take out Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden in the name of Babylon”. Just some examples of Q-related violence.

On 30 May 2019, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) issued an intelligence bulletin warning of conspiracy theory-driven domestic extremists that specifically mentioned QAnon. 

The bulletin stated:

‘The FBI assesses anti-government, identity-based and fringe political conspiracy theories very likely motivate some domestic extremists, wholly or in part, to commit criminal and sometimes violent activity.’

QAnon has also destroyed families, with an entire subreddit set up for users who have lost family members or friends to the fringe belief system. The page currently has over 45,000 members.

Who is Q?

Let’s start with the fact that Q almost certainly does not work in the White House, or any other senior level of government.

While it isn’t entirely clear which person (or persons) last posted as Q on 8kun, there is ample evidence that different people have posted from the account in the past. Where the original Q drops were concise and to the point (albeit factually wrong), later drops tended increasingly towards obscure in-references, capitalisations and incoherence.

When Q moved from 4chan to 8chan, the somewhat lax security on the new site meant that Q’s password was soon hacked (it was Matlock) and others started posting as Q. This required the board owner (Paul Furber) to step in and confirm who was the real Q. Some people (including Fredrick Brennan) speculate that Furber himself owned the Q account at this point, although journalist PJ Vogt counters that Furber is more likely “the world’s most credulous disciple” (Reply All podcast, episode #166).  

The massive flood of traffic that Q’s growing popularity generated proved a problem for 8chan owner Brennan, who didn’t have the money to cover the spiralling web hosting fees. In desperation, Brennan reached out to 8chan users and was approached by a U.S. expatriate living in Malaysia — a man by the name of Ron Watkins

Ron and his father Jim ran 2channel – the imageboard that had inspired the creation of 4chan and 8chan – and Jim had recently tried unsuccessfully to set up an extreme right-wing news channel, The Goldwater. The Watkins’ offered Brennan a job running 8chan, even paying for him to move to Malaysia. Somewhat inevitably, the deal that Brennan signed demoted him from site owner to paid administrator.

In the podcast Q Clearance, conflict journalist Jake Hanrahan examines the likelihood that the Q account changed hands around this time, with Paul Furber (as board owner) calling out an evidently fake Q poster, only to be accused of being compromised. This new Q then called on “Code monkey” (8chan senior administrator Ron Watkins) to verify his login into, which Watkins did, effectively stripping Furber of any credibility he may have had in the eyes of Q followers.

Q almost immediately announced that he was leaving Furber’s “compromised” board, asking Ron Watkins to set him up a new board where Watkins alone could verify Q’s identity. From then on, if Q was someone other than Ron or Jim Watkins, they were the only two people who could confirm or deny the fact.

How did QAnons deal with Joe Biden being elected?

In general, not well. To be fair, Republican candidates Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert, who have both expressed belief in QAnon theories, won their seats, but both the Electoral College and the popular vote decided that time was up for Q’s white knight, Donald Trump.

Donald Trump is still good for troublemaking

While Q remained silent for nine days after the election, many true believers have jumped on the “stolen election” bandwagon, repeating the QAnon mantra of ‘Trust the Plan’. Some claim that Trump knows exactly what he’s doing, letting the Democrats and the media commit obvious fraud that will draw international condemnation and lead to a sweeping (if slightly revisionist) victory.

Also, Q might have helped show how rubbish Parler is…

What does Parler have to do with Q?

For those unfamiliar, Parler is the new Right-wing social platform that has been attracting hordes of users who didn’t appreciate when Twitter started to flag Trump posts for accuracy. It was originally meant to be pronounced “parlay” (from the French word parle) but for some reason, the vast majority of users didn’t understand this subtlety.

Cable News Network (CNN) calls Parler ‘rife with misinformation’. So too, a report by the American Anti-Defamation League.

The report stated

‘Parler has attracted a range of Right-wing extremists. Proud Boys, QAnon adherents, anti-government extremists (Oath Keepers, Three Percenters and militia) and white supremacists (from members of the alt-Right to accelerationists) openly promote their ideologies on the site, while Holocaust denial, antisemitism, racism and other forms of bigotry are also easy to find.’

Earlier this week, a verified Parler user claiming to be Ron Watkins posted the following: 

‘Yes, Jim has posted as Q before. Fuck you, dad.’  

The account was later deleted and Watkins has tweeted that the posts were fake, but Ron’s abrupt resignationfrom 8kun on November 3rd definitely suggests that things are not well in the house that Q built.

Is this the end of QAnon?

Maybe.

Probably not.

The following post appeared on 8kun on November 12th:

Even when Trump finally gets removed from the Oval Office and Q fades into obscurity, another conspiracy theorist will spring up in his place. And then another. And another. And there will be thousands if not millions of people that believe the conspiracies, spread them online and try to convince family and friends of their validity.

Don’t believe everything you read online. Think for yourself.

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John Turnbull is Independent Australia’s entertainment editor, a writer, balloon pilot and tattoo aficionado.

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